Reading & Literacy

‘Maker Spaces’ and Literacy Instruction: Playing With Story

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — June 09, 2016 2 min read
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Is storytelling a kind of making?

As the maker movement, which encourages hands-on, open-ended learning, becomes increasingly common in K-12 schools, some argue that the spirit of exploration that drives the movement is just as useful in literacy instruction as it is in the STEM fields with which making is more commonly associated.

My colleague Benjamin Herold describes the evolution of “making” from a small, largely out-of-school movement to a full-fledged trend in K-12 schools—and the concerns that have come up as a somewhat nebulous concept hits the highly regulated world of public education—in Education Week‘s 2016 Technology Counts special report. The White House is hosting a “Week of Making” later in June, and a slew of organizations and educators are advocating for schools to embrace “making” and “maker spaces.”

But Laura Fleming, a library media specialist and former classroom teacher in New Jersey and the author of Worlds of Learning: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School, says that despite its growing popularity, people too often assume that the maker movement is limited to STEM.

Fleming said that her own path into the maker movement was through literacy instruction. As a librarian, she encouraged students to “play with stories.”

“We do activities focused on digital storytelling, or remixing and mashing up digital stories,” Fleming said. At a time when many English and literacy teachers are tied to a set curriculum, Fleming said she used her time with students to “take liberties outside the traditional classroom canon.”

“There’s no right or wrong way to tell a story,” Fleming said. "[Students] are often told it has to be with paper and pencil or typed, five paragraphs long, written in a certain way...You can tell a story on paper or with objects. We try to expand the definition of what a story is and can be.” She said her students used everything from clay to comics to puzzles to PowerPoint to tell stories, and that the different approaches to storytelling helped remind them how engaging reading and writing can be.

Fleming said that while “maker spaces” —areas designated for free-form exploration or building—are often associated with 3-D printers or engineering stations, she believes a “maker space” is about facilitating creativity and open-ended learning, not the technology. “I’m really passionate about getting the message out there that they don’t have to be about STEM at all,” she said. Fleming said she encourages adults to allow students to have a say in developing a space that fits their classroom or community.

Fleming is one of a number of school librarians who argue that libraries are a natural fit for “maker spaces.”

For a quick look at the variety of maker spaces around the country, check out some of the photos that educators shared with Education Week on Twitter: #ShowUsYourMakerSpace

Photo: Shemya Key, 17, left, and Nele Dixkens, a 16-year-old German exchange student, use a drill press to perfect their miniature golf project in the engineering room at Monticello High School in Virginia’s Albemarle County school district. - Reza A. Marvashti for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.